Tag Archives: Culture

My Mother’s WWII Correspondence

The past two weeks have been rough at the Nolen household with the grand-girl very sick with a tummy virus and everyone else catching it. I’ve got a writing conference in two weeks and a garage sale in three weeks. Both will require a lot of preparation. Nothing like adding a little something to something else to keep it fresh. But I have to say that this is a refreshing Fall, what with the nice weather we’re having and the fact that we haven’t just moved, or are moving, or are planning to move soon. Nope, this will be the start of year two in the old haunted house on Welch street.

So I begin with me but this is really another post about the past. Digging through my mother’s paper’s I found an extraordinary cache of history. I include it for your enrichment. I can’t help but be impressed with the passion of patriotic feeling that is hard to find outside of military families these days.

How did my mother come to have a pen pal in a POW camp in France?

Turns out the German POW found my mother’s address in her cousin’s address book. The little booklet was removed from his dead body during battle. He sent a scrap with addresses that he’d copied out of the book before the book was taken from him.

It looks like the first time Mr. Haag wrote was the 6 of July 1947. He wrote a postcard in German. All I can understand is the address and the beginning “Geshles Frauleine!” I’ve probably spelled it wrong. It is beautiful script, but hard to decipher the letters.

I guess he figured out pretty quickly that she didn’t speak German.

I think the next one is Epinal 15, 1947 (I have no idea when Epinal is so I leave it at that.) I think this is a second letter. Here is what it says:

“My Dear Miss Holl-, Last week I got your postcard and thank you very much. I had already given up the hope in your getting my card. I am sorry to write you, that the little book, in which I found your address amongst some others, is me taken off by a controll visit. I should like send to you your cousins address book. I was only able, to write up some adresses, which were well to card. In 1945 I was for a short time prisoner by the Americans, and well to remember me at this time, because we were well treated. In the next time, I hope to be repatriated and to be allowed to return to civil life. Perhaps, I am able to see once your country, America! I should you visite certainly. In the hope, soon to hear something off you, Dear Miss Holl-” I great you heartily and remain your Werner Haag.”

I think the next time he write is December 7, 1947. Here is what he says:

Dear Miss Holl- Your Christmas present for me, the Holy Bible, today at the same time so your kindness for which I thank you dearly. I am sorry that also in this year I cannot celebrate Christmas at house with my parents. For here in our prisoners camp there will be no distress  in Germany is very great. Now I will tell you about me as you want it. I was born July 23rd 1927 in the Black Forest! I have brown hair, and eyes, as you can see in the little picture which was made in captivity. After having leaved school in 1942, I was offered a coppersmith job, but I could not finish my apprenticeship for in 1944 I was made a soldier having 16 years. To I wrote you I speak English but very badly. Nevertheless I desire to perfect my knowledge of the English language. I was in American captivity for only a short time. It is very difficult for us to learn English for we have no learning books. For order to simplify our correspondence one of my comrades translates our letters. Dear Mary Louise, I’m very pleased that you like your work and that you are happy to help unemployed people. As I am very interested in your country. I would like to read the newspaper which published the article about your work. As I lost my two brothers, who were killed in war. I only have an older sister. We are good Christians and my very good Catholic homeland has suffered by war, especially farms which were completely devastated. I envy your country which is truly blessed as you said. I always hope to have the possibility to visit you in your country but that will be difficult. The German prisoners in France are offered to stay in France as civil workers for one year. They will have a holiday in the next year. I am separated from my relative already three years. My parents want me to engage here for one year. You know certainly that the liberation of the German prisoners of war has been fixed to the end of the next year. As during my captivity I have been accepted hard work off all conditions and often without sufficient food. It will not be difficult for me to finish my year working off my labor in the coal mine. For that is what they have for me. And now my dear Miss Mary Louise, I must finish once more. I thank you heartily for your Christmas gift. I want you and your relatives to have a merry Christmas. Your German Friend, Werner.

The last note is a postcard dated Merlebach, 6/2/48:

Dear Miss Mary Louise! I thank you very much for the Christmas card. Have you received my air-mail letter? I’m am set free now, and drive this month to my parent’s. Hoping that you soon to answer, and kind regards, Yours very faithfully, Werner.

I tried to locate Werner Haag POW number 1084450 born July 23, 1927 (He was two years younger than my mother) in the Black Forest and I came up with one Werner Haag born that year in that region. This Werner Haag invented the polymer later called polyester. He died in 2003. I shouldn’t be surprised a bit if it were the same person.

Stranger things have happened.

Cultural Differences: The Vietnamese Wedding Reception

Please forgive me.                       English: A wedding in Annam (Middle of Vietnam...

While getting a pedicure the other day I found out I have made a grave mistake.

About fifteen years ago my family was honored to be invited to our neighbor’s daughter’s wedding and reception. Our Vietnamese neighbors were quiet, and neighborly but we did not really get to be close friends until our children were in their teens.  Their children were a little older than ours, which when your child is a toddler and their child is in grade school seems a lot more than a little older.

I like to be neighborly – you know – take a casserole over when someone is sick, etc. But I decided early in the relationship that no one could “outnice” the Nguyens. I would offer a solution to a garden pest problem, I would get cookies, I would take cake, I would get chocolates (the kind filled with liquor, YUM!) and so on. One Chinese New Year I received a banana wrapped steamed rice dish (a Vietnamese specialty that takes a lot of work to make) for no other reason than sheer niceness.

The Nguyens were simply wonderful neighbors. We went through sickness and health and several joyous times together. Especially memorable was being invited to their daughter’s wedding.

The Nguyens were Buddhists. Their daughter converted to Catholicism and married in the Catholic church. We went to the wedding and sat on the bride’s “side”. Besides her immediate family and a few other neighbors, we were practically the only ones sitting on that side of the church. The groom’s “side” was full. We were sad for her.

We went to the reception which was held at a large Vietnamese restaurant downtown. When we walked into the banquet room I was astounded. It was huge. there were probably fifty round table all set for eight. There was a stage, and lights, and no people. The Nguyens were there, a few neighbors, the groom’s parents, the band, and no one else.

Now we were really sad for them.

Wow, throw a big party and no one comes. The small group of us from the neighborhood quickly gathered at one table and sat awkwardly staring at each other.

For two hours.

Exactly two hours later someone must have yelled “go!” because the doors opened and people flooded in. Apparently, we hadn’t read that invitation very well. There was a time printed clear as clear that the reception began at 7 P.M. The wedding had been at 4. Needless to say, we were starved. As our children were young we were used to eating early. (We still do – only now we call it the AARP eating schedule.)

Soon the music started and so did the arrival 0f the food. Course after course. I’ll never forget the lobster dish with the giant “lobster” made of vegetables sitting in the center. So much food. So many people. A DJ and entertainment. It was a grand party. And we ate like royalty.

I was relating this story to the Vietnamese man who was working on my toes.

I don’t recall how we got on the subject. I was with my mother. She loves getting a pedicure so I take her every four or five weeks for one. It does not fail that she asks each person what country they are from. I want to slip under the big massage chair, because my generation assumes that a lot of young Asians are second or third generation American, but I just concentrated on the suds around my ankles.They didn’t get offended. I’m always amazed that they don’t get offended. I think because my mother looks so old and sweet.

So on this day the conversation got around to Vietnamese food – We could smell wonderful things cooking at the noodle house next door – of course we’re going to talk about food. I remembered the delightful show and flavor of the nine-course meal at the wedding reception so many years earlier.

The conversation turned to how much such a thing would cost and the pedicurist said, “you helped pay for it.”

“I don’t think so. How could I?”

“You put money in bucket. It was passed to your table.”

“Bucket? No, I don’t remember a bucket.”

“Oh.”

“Oh?”

“You were supposed to put money in bucket. That is how the reception is afforded. If you only an acquaintance you put fifty dollar. If you good friend, you put two hundred or so in bucket.”

“What!??” I’m horrified. “I didn’t know.”

Why doesn’t anyone tell about these things. I remember early on the day of the wedding the procession of costumed bride and groom marching from the end of the street to the Nguyen’s house. They told us it was a custom to formally introduce the bride to her in-laws. No one said anything about contributing toward the wedding reception, that it was a cultural thing. Vietnamese wedding receptions are always elaborate – just to different degrees, and the one we were at was big-deal-elaborate. I’m sick. I asked the pedicurist what should I do? and he said that it would be embarrassing to bring it up now.

So I ask you.

After all these years what do I do? Any suggestions? I have not lived near the my former neighbors for about ten years but am still in contact.